Who Votes for Mayor?

The 2016 Election is now behind us – but across the country, local government officials are gearing up for the 2017 election cycle.

That’s right – in most U.S. cities (though not in Oregon), key offices like Mayors and city commissioners are elected in odd-year contests. And thanks to a major grant that CPS and PSU’s Population Research Center received last year from the Knight Foundation, our recent research has provided unprecedented insight into the question of “Who Votes for Mayor?”

Our research team — co-led by me and PRC Director Jason Jurjevich, with help from Kevin Rancik, Carson Gorecki, and Stephanie Hawke —  analyzed over 23 million voting records. The most visible finding of our work – looking at 50 cities across the U.S., including Portland, is that the general answer is voter turnout is “shockingly low.”

Across the 50 cities, turnout of eligible citizens averaged just over 20%. Eligible citizen turnout in 10 of the largest cities was an abysmal 15%, and in cities such as Las Vegas, Fort Worth, and Dallas it was in the single digits.

Our research revealed that the single most important determinant of voter turnout is age, overshadowing other factors such as household income, education, and race/ethnicity. In many communities residents 65 and older were 15 times more likely to cast a ballot than their younger counterparts between the ages of 18 and 34. The study was able to clarify how wide the voter age gap actually is.  Across all 50 cities, the median age of voters who actually cast ballots was 57, nearly a generation older than the median age (42) of eligible voters.

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Democracy is the core principle on which our constitution rests. Low voter turnout inevitably means that disproportionate influence will be exercised by a small segment of residents, affecting critical issues like schools, parks, housing, libraries, police, fire and transportation. This creates a strong motivation for local government candidates – not to mention elected officials – to pay more attention to courting relatively small shares of their communities – often to the detriment of paying attention to the much broader community.

Portland, incidentally, fared quite well in this research, with a 59.4% turnout, the highest of 50 cities studied. The biggest reason for this: the determinative mayor’s election in 2012 was one of the few held at the same time as the November Presidential election. But I also think that Oregon’s “vote at home” system may have also played a role.

There’s no large, 200+ page study associated with this work; rather, the project resulted in a highly interactive website by which citizens can zero into individual census tracts and compare a wide range of election-related metrics with such Census data as income, education, race/ethnicity, and employment rates.

For the full interactive website click here.

This post was written by Phil Keisling, Director of Center for Public Service and edited by CPS.

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The Student Connection at CPS

by Sara Kuehlhorn Friedman

Students and the Center for Public Service go hand-in-hand.

CPS strives to connect theory to practice, promote public good, and search for solutions, and the organization is uniquely situated to reach these goals through drawing on the skills, experience, and interests of students in academic programs at Portland State University (PSU). CPS provides clients with a breadth of talent not easily found in the consulting world, while providing students learning opportunities and experience not found when limited to a classroom.

Massage sign

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks via Foter.com

When Professor Masami Nishishiba agreed to complete a study for the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy (OBMT) that focused on “Examining Reasons for License Non-Compliance among Asian-Pacific Islander Community Members” in the state of Oregon, she knew that assistance would be necessary. Most significantly, Nishishiba, who speaks Japanese and English, would need research assistants who could communicate with the Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Lao speakers who were the focus of the study. Connecting with the university’s student body was the perfect solution.

Nishishiba recruited four graduate students from the Hatfield School of Government and the School of Social Work: Anh P Nguyen, Lu Pang, Sirisak (Paulo) Laochankham, and Thitisak (Tony) Duadsuntia. The students’ language backgrounds matched Nishishba’s needs, but each student’s specific interest in and dedication to public service and social policy also made the research team what it needed to be. At the end of the project, we asked these students to share what they learned, and the results provide worthwhile insight into the value of working with students on CPS projects.

teamwork

Photo credit: Bamboo.nutra via Foter.com

As can be expected, experiencing the research process and working as part of a team were benefits that all four students found valuable. The OBMT study involved qualitative research, which few students typically have the opportunity to experience beyond classroom discussion. Furthermore, the students learned to navigate the IRB process together; they also developed the survey, analyzed data, generated outcomes, and stated recommendations with Nishishiba’s guidance.

In addition to gaining a more developed sense of the research process and working as a team member in the research context, the students each expressed more direct—and more personal—effects that participating in the project had on them, including a fuller understanding of the value and importance of research more generally, a better understanding of equity and equality in the policy world, and a stronger awareness of strategies employed by individual immigrant groups in the Portland area.

Pang Quote

In describing her realization of the meaning and value of research, Nguyen states “I have learnt that research involves restraint.” Explaining further, Nguyen describes her new awareness of the importance of questioning assumptions and hypotheses. She knows now that there is no question too small because while working on a project, one really cannot tell where the process will lead. In the end, the students were surprised by the outcomes of the study, so learning to ‘stand back’ and allow the data to speak for itself was significant.

Students highlighted a second significant gain from working on the OBMT project, which is a deeper understanding of the challenges of equity and equality. Pang states “there is no such thing as small issues through the lens of social justice and equity.” This study revealed a number of challenges to licensing which are endemic to speakers of other languages in the Portland area, and students had the opportunity to ask the question: “In a just society, is equality enough?”

The benefit of facing tough questions about society in the context of a research project like the OBMT while continuing to consider similar questions in the classroom provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore topics significant to public service on a deeper level. Nguyen now believes that equal treatment erases our differences and promotes privilege, and that it does not really help everybody in society achieve success and their goals in life. With a more defined understanding of her values relating to equality, and with experience to support her point of view, Nguyen will enter the professional world with a level of confidence she wouldn’t have had without this research experience.

hand shake

Photo credit: nist6ss via Foter.com

Finally, all of the students emphasized that working with the South East Asian population in the Portland area was a unique and valuable experience on multiple levels. Laochankham pointed out that the team strategy required that they build personal relationships with interviewees. The team did this first by approaching the participants through their customers, but the research team found that the population was happy to share their experiences with massage licensing in Oregon.

As a result of their outreach, Duadsuntia said, students working on this project learned that different members of the South East Asian population employ different strategies to live in and adapt to the U.S. culture when migrating to the country. Furthermore, the team worked together so closely that they learned more about one another’s cultures as well.

The OBMT project exemplifies the ways in which students assist in achieving project goals otherwise very challenging without their unique backgrounds and skills. This example of connecting projects to students and students to projects is not unique at CPS. Indeed, most projects that come through the Center are completed with the assistance of students, which makes CPS an integral player in the education and training of future public servants.

~Symbolizing Core Values~

By Dan Vizzini, CPS Senior Fellow and Core Team Member

A few years ago, I retired from my position at the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services.  For 26 years, I had the great pleasure of serving the city and its citizens as a financial analyst, program supervisor, policy development specialist, assistant to a City Council member, and legislative and regulatory specialist.  My experiences at the City had a profound impact on my views about citizenship, public service, and the relationship between public policy goals and the interests and goals of Portland’s businesses and neighborhoods.  Much of that learning formed the basis of the work I do now at the Center for Public Service and JaLoGoMa (a training program for municipal government officers from all over Japan), where I focus on building a bridge between the theory and practice of public service and citizen engagement.

Vizzini 1

The story of the journey of discovery.

Late in 2011, when it came time to replace my old business card from the City of Portland with a personal business card, I thought deeply about my former public life and the core values that I wanted to carry forward into my private life.  One image was particularly powerful. It’s a graphic I developed to depict the journey that one takes from the discovery of a new idea, to planning and acting on the idea, and finally to sharing the idea and personal experience with others.  This image and the story of the journey of discovery became a powerful metaphor for my work on sustainable
development and green infrastructure.

My original sketch was inspired by the graphic representation of the Fibonacci Sequence, a sequence of numbers that was originally developed around 200 BC to help interpret the meter of Sanskrit poetry.  The Indian number series was eventually discovered and introduced into Europe in 1202 by the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (popularly referred to as Fibonacci).

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The Fibonacci spiral.

At the heart of the Indian mathematics and Fibonacci’s Sequence is the notion of the Golden Ratio, or the proportions that repeatedly appear in the natural world: from the shape of the nautilus in sea life, to the spacing of adjacent leaves in plants, to the relationship between the length of the human forearm and the length of the human hand.    The Gold Ratio (1:1.618) represents the aesthetic balance in living things; a balance that has been emulated and reflected in the highest forms of human art and architecture.

So when I was searching for a symbol to add to my personal business card, I found myself returning, again and again to Fibonacci and the symbolism of the spiral.  The shape is meaningful on multiple levels.  It represents the human search for balance, order, and beauty, and a need to harmonize our lives with the natural world on which our lives depend.  It represents a journey of discovery that begins with “discovery,” leads to a process of inquiry and learning followed by planning and action, and concludes with sharing the experience with others in a way that drives new opportunities for discovery.  And finally, the expanding nature of the spiral from a single point represents an expansion of human knowledge, understanding, and experiences that result from a human journey of discovery.

Vizzini 3With all of these ideas in mind, I began a search for an image that I could use on my personal business card.  A number of attractive images were readily available on the Internet.  But in the end I settled on a photograph I took in a shop full of fossils and rocks in Seattle, Washington.  There, in the middle of the shop, was an Ammonite fossil, roughly 1.2 meters tall and .8 meters wide.  The fossil perfectly illustrated the Golden Ratio, and the nautilus shape reflected my spiral representation of the journey of discovery.

A few years after I incorporated the spiral image into my business card, I found myself returning to the image to use as a symbol or totem for JaLoGoMa.  It seemed only natural to do so since I had begun to use the image to illustrate many of JaLoGoMa’s foundational principles of civic engagement and the co-production of public goods.  Highly stylized, the image I chose presents a modern abstraction of the natural nautilus form.  The rounded shape and bold red color intentionally mimic the Japanese rising sun.  And to the form, I added a personal admonition for public servants and citizens to act with courage, perseverance and passion on behalf of humanity and the well being of all living things.

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JaLoGoMa Symbol

I have no doubt that what has evolved into a strong and meaningful symbol for public service work will continue to provide me and those I work with a reminder of our core values. Identifying and working with a symbol has only strengthened my understanding of the importance of the work we do in public service, as it serves as a constant reminder. If you haven’t taken the time to explore your own values in this way, consider doing so!

~ Promoting Sustainability and Energy Conservation in Smaller Cities and Counties in Oregon~

By David Rouse & Ed Gallagher, Senior Fellows, Center for Public Service

CPS Senior Fellows, David Rouse and Ed Gallagher, along with two MPA students, led a project through PSU’s Center for Public Service to assist small cities and counties in lowering their carbon foot print and reducing their energy consumption through the use of sustainability practices.

energy2Funded by NW Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), the project looked at best practices in sustainability nationwide and then narrowed the focus to smaller communities and jurisdictions that might otherwise not engage in developing a sustainability plan. Smaller cities and counties typically do not have the staff expertise or budget to undertake a comprehensive approach to energy conservation.

Through a selection process, two Oregon cities (Independence and Albany) and one county (Yamhill County) were chosen for the project. To facilitate the process, a CPS team traveled to each jurisdiction for the purpose of developing an internal staff team to work in conjunction with CPS.  Four key areas were identified to focus efforts: facilities, operations, purchasing, and fleet.

Lessons Learned

  1. Each jurisdiction is unique in how they consume energy therefore a one size fits all does not work.

While there are commonalities among public agencies, each jurisdiction provided unique services. For example, Albany had responsibilities for running a public swimming pool with an antiquated boiler system, increasing their energy use. Yamhill County was responsible for jail services and had high energy use (water/heat) related to inmate use. While high energy use is common in these two examples, the solutions to each of the problems are very different.

  1. If you can’t measure it, you can’t reduce it.

Step one: consolidate your energy bill. Surprisingly, when asked, most agencies cannot state what their total energy usage is. This is because monthly billings come to multiple departments within the jurisdiction; energy costs are not typically quantified in one bill. Energy1Each department is responsible for paying their own portion of the total bill, and when looked at in total, most agencies are shocked at how much they pay out in total. However, without awareness of the total usage, there is little an organization can do to reduce usage.

  1. Energy usage should be looked at as a manageable expense.

Most agencies assume their energy costs will go up each year and budget accordingly.  When looking at expense from a sustainability and conservation standpoint, it is important to identify where your agency consumes energy—from lowest to highest—and develop a plan to reduce use where it is most cost effective. In most cases, energy usage can be reduced, not increased; hence, saving precious budget resources.

Rouse, Gallagher, and the rest of the CPS team developed comprehensive sustainability and energy conservation plans for each jurisdiction. The plans identified short term and long term projects for each agency that had potential for reducing energy usage. Also included in the plans were financing alternatives that identified potential grant funding and/or low interest loans for projects that focused on energy conservation.

Final reports are available at https://www.pdx.edu/cps/profile/sustainable-municipal-operations-final-report-albany-independence-and-yamhill.

For more information contact David Rouse at, drouse@pdx.edu, or Ed Gallagher at mpgnorthwest@gmail.com.

~ Celebrating Public Service: 40 Years of Making a Difference!~

By Phil Keisling, Director of Center for Public Service

Last month – the evening of Saturday, April 18th 2015 to be exact – I had the privilege to be in the Smith Center ballroom at PSU with more than 300 “friends of public service.” The audience for this CPS Gala included hundreds of graduates from Lewis and Clark College

CPS Gala, 2015

CPS Gala, 2015

and Portland State University public administration programs as well as participants in various leadership development and training programs the Center has sponsored over 40 years. Former and current elected officials, including Governor Barbara Roberts and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, were also in attendance. Among the audience, the most inspiring were the dozens of younger men and women in attendance, many of them still pursuing their graduate and undergraduate degrees, who are eager and ready to pursue their own careers in public service in the decades ahead.

In designing the event – CPS’ first-ever “Celebration of Public Service” — we consciously chose to think in three dimensions: to honor the past, to acknowledge the present, and to inspire the future.

Dr. Douglas Morgan

Dr. Douglas Morgan

In honoring the past, we bestowed on one of our own, Dr. Douglas Morgan (see photo), a richly deserved recognition as the recipient of our first “Public Service Lifetime Achievement” award. Acknowledging the present, the entire audience engaged in a real-time, interactive poll and pondered the current state of public service in Oregon. As for the inspiration for the future, we honored a team from Metro with our first “Oregon Innovation Award” and our commitment to assist them in developing new mechanisms for broad multicultural engagement and                                                             public outreach.

In retrospect, the event was conceived in one of those classic moments when the power and appeal of a particular idea simply overwhelms common sense; and in all practicality, it caused us to try to shoe-horn a new (and major!) obligation into an already over-burdened and under-resourced world. As one colleague kept reminding us, “Of course it’s crazy – and, of course, we just have to do it!”

Metro received CPS' inaugural Oregon Innovation Award

Metro received CPS’ inaugural Oregon Innovation Award

Indeed, I still marvel that the Center’s amazing staff, students, and various volunteers not only pulled it off, but did so with such amazing grace and teamwork. But that spirit is also as apt a metaphor for the current condition of public service as anything else.

More than 150,000 Oregonians work for a local, state, federal, or tribal government entity; roughly the same number work for one of the state’s more than 20,000 non-profit entities. Yet for all its impact – roughly 1 in 4 jobs – “public service” as a career path does not exactly top the popularity charts or have much hold on the public imagination.

Before Amy Poehler’s “Parks and Recreation” sitcom came along, can you think of a single television show whose public service protagonists were employed in something other than police, military, or hospital-related work?

While many public service professionals regularly risk their lives in fulfilling their duties, or toil to save the lives of others, they’re more the exceptions than the rule. The vast majority of public service professionals focus on things that don’t make for good drama but are still essential (and so often taken for granted) tasks.

Providing safe drinking water and sewage systems. Building and repairing roads. Helping children, the sick, and the disabled get the assistance and attention they need to keep them safe. Enforcing zoning regulations, educating the next generation, helping people navigate through various forms and procedures.

By definition, public service is about trying to solve problems that will never be fully solved, or trying to plan for a future that will never quite turn out the way anyone can predict. There never is any finish line – which is why, for today’s practitioners especially, it’s hard to escape the feeling that there’s no end to being asked to do even more, with even less.

This can be more than a little discouraging, for sure. But while I can’t point to any data – indeed, I doubt the questions were even asked – I strongly suspect that no generation of public service professionals has ever felt as appreciated as they deserved to be. Complaining about government is as common a trope among the general population as grousing about Portland rain or crowded airplanes. Expectations about public service have always been out-sized compared to the resources allotted. Those of us who choose this world for their life’s work – or a part of it – do so in spite of this reality.

Masami Nishishiba, Associate Director, and Phil Keisling, Director

Masami Nishishiba, Associate Director, and Phil Keisling, Director

But that’s also exactly why I was so struck last month – a bit overwhelmed, really, thoughin a good way – by the energy and the enthusiasm in the room that night. Sometimes, it’s important to give something back to ourselves, too. If others aren’t throwing parties to honor what we do, well, we can (and should) do it ourselves.

So to those who were there and to the many others who couldn’t attend, a simple “Thank you!” is more than in order. And then, of course, on the following Monday it was back to work for most of us, continuing to do what’s important and essential.

See more info and photo of the Gala see: http://www.pdx.edu/cps/gala-2015

Welcome to the CPS Blog!

The CPS Blog is an online platform where faculty, practitioners, students and staff affiliated with the Center for Public Service (CPS) at Portland State University share thoughts, insights and project results that are relevant to the CPS vision “to enhance the legitimacy of—and citizen trust in—public service institutions and the people who work in them.” We intend for the CPS Blog to document and share the work and learning of CPS members in order to further facilitate innovation and collaborative partnerships in public service.

At last count, CPS Connect—the forum for CPS faculty and practitioners to share current research projects and create ideas for new projects—had over forty members. The CPS Blog is a centralized and accessible venue for CPS Connect members to publish their thoughts and ideas regarding Connecting Theory to Practice, Promoting the Public Good, and Searching for Solutions in public service. Together, we hope to help our faculty, students, and practitioners network and learn from one another in order to continue to push the envelope on innovation in public service.

Three types of topics and contents are featured in the CPS Blog.

  1. Connect theory to practice

The blog postings examine and explore theories and frameworks that are useful in analyzing and developing meaningful public service practices and policies. They address and highlight the connection between theory and practice.

  1. Promote public good

The blog postings provide descriptions of CPS projects and elaborate how the projects contribute to enhancing legitimacy and trust in public institutions and promote public good.

  1. Search for Solutions

The blog postings present research findings, project results and promising practices that provide solutions to the challenges public service institutions and the people who work in them face.

Submission and Review

Anyone who is affiliated with CPS can submit a blog posting. The blog posting draft should be submitted to Sara Friedman, managing editor of CPS Blog via this link.

Suggested length of postings is 500 to 1,000 words.

Contact Masami Nishishiba (nishism@pdx.edu) or Jennifer Martinez (mar36@pdx.edu) for any questions related to CPS Blog.

CPS Blog editorial team (Masami Nishishiba, editor/ Jennifer Martinez, managing editor) will review the blog posting draft for content and style. The CPS editorial team may suggest revisions to the author(s) before posting.